Cultural

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Overview

Culture represents one of the most pervasive influences on behavior that individuals can receive. Culture incorporates perceptions, motives, values, aspirations, and other aspects that are key elements of socialization that are transmitted from generation to generation.   

Self Determination Theory (SDT) states that there is an inherent human tendency to internalize and to integrate social practices. Despite the existence of cultural differences, SDT has proven to be a useful theoretical approach to understand how a culture transmits or conveys its regulations and values, and how a culture affects internalization. For example, when cultural elements are transmitted in more controlling or authoritarian ways, we expect less internalization, in comparison to a culture transmission with a more autonomy supportive way of internalization ensuring more stable cultural norms and practices. 

Also, SDT focuses on how specific practices, values, and rituals of a culture impact basic psychological needs. SDT studies have demonstrated that across many different cultures and societies, basic need satisfaction is invariably associated with wellbeing despite the arguments of cultural relativists. These scholars correctly state that there is a lot of variability in cultural behaviors, values, and attitudes…however, SDT scholars argue that some cultural contents are not as good at supporting basic psychological needs and this produces variability in wellness across cultures. Therefore, it is useful to look at cultures in terms of how well they are supporting wellness. 

To apply SDT in the study of cultures, it is important to clearly distinguish between terms. For instance, differentiating values from motives, and from needs, are important distinctions. In SDT, a need is defined as an essential nutrient for thriving and wellness across cultures. Values and motives can differ across cultures but psychological needs are considered as an etic universal, that is, a characteristic that can be empirically identified and cross-culturally validated. 

Specifically, one controversial issue is that SDT argues that there is a need for autonomy that applies across cultures, irrespectively where people live. However, it is possible that autonomy manifests different across cultures, but remains essential to well-being. There are many studies giving ample empirical evidence regarding this. 

In fact, an early study by Chirkov, Ryan, Kim & Kaplan (2003) demonstrated that autonomy and well-being were associated despite more specific cultural orientations (individualism-collectivism) in the US, Turkey, Russia, and South Korea. A more recent study by Chen et al., (2015) performed in the US, Belgium, China, and Peru, demonstrated that the association between need satisfaction and well-being was comparable across countries. Moreover, even if people said that autonomy was not important to them, not satisfying their autonomy had a negative impact on their well-being. 

There are many other studies giving empirical evidence that support the idea that autonomy support and basic need satisfaction is associated with well-being regardless of cultural contexts. There is a lot of variation across cultures but there are basic human elements that apply across cultures. SDT states that all cultures do better when they find ways to support the basic psychological needs of their people.

Take-aways

  • Basic need satisfaction is associated with well-being irrespectively of different types of societies. 
  • Even though autonomy can differently manifest across cultures, it remains essential to well-being. Regardless of your cultural practices, if you are autonomously engaged in them, the better your well-being would be. Interestingly, even in a country where people say, “autonomy is not that important to me”, not having it has an impact on their well-being. 
  • There are many studies that support the idea that autonomy support and basic need satisfaction is associated with well-being regardless of cultural contexts.
  • All cultures do better when they find ways to support the basic psychological needs of their members.

Featured / Suggested

Wuyts, D.Chen, B.Vansteenkiste, M.Soenens, B. (2015) . , Social pressure and unfulfilled dreams among Chinese and Belgian parents: Two roads to controlling parenting via child-invested contingent self-esteem Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 46(9) ,1150-1168

Chen, B.Vansteenkiste, M.Beyers, W., Boone, L.Deci, E. L.Van der Kaap-Deeder, J., Duriez, B., Lens, W.Matos, L. (2015) . , Basic psychological need satisfaction, need frustration, and need strength across four cultures Motivation and Emotion, 39 ,216-236

Benita, M.Benish-Weisman, M., Matos, L.Torres, C. (2020) . , Integrative and suppressive emotion regulation differentially predict well-being through basic need satisfaction and frustration: A test of three countries Motivation and Emotion, 44(1) ,67-81

Lynch, M. F.Salikhova, N. R.Eremeeva, A. V. (2020) . , Basic needs in other cultures: Using qualitative methods to study key issues in Self-Determination Theory research Psychology. Journal of the Higher School of Economics, 17 ,134-144

Slemp, G.R.Kern, M. L.Patrick, K. J., Ryan, R. M. (2018) . , Leader autonomy support in the workplace: A meta-analytic review Motivation and Emotion, 42 ,706-724

Chirkov, V. I., Ryan, R. M., Kim, Y.Kaplan, U. (2003) . , Differentiating autonomy from individualism and independence: A self-determination theory perspective on internalization of cultural orientations and well-being Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84 ,97-110

Lennia Matos,
 PhD, Cultural Editor,

Lennia is a Full Professor in the Department of Psychology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Her research focuses on understanding the universality of basic psychological needs and how different social and cultural contexts can support or thwart these needs. Currently, she is particularly interested in understanding whether the positive effects of basic psychological need satisfaction and the negative effects of basic psychological need frustration are consistent across all levels of socioeconomic status, specifically in contexts of poverty and unsafe conditions.